Book review: populist backlash could be good for democracy

Book review: The New Authoritarianism The populist backlash against the role of experts in the political process isn't such a bad thing, says Professor Salvatore Babones.

934-Reviews-nEW-authoritarianism-100

Trump, Populism and theTyranny of Experts

Polity Press (£9.99)

Buy on Amazon

The past few years have seen a populist backlash against the role of experts in the political process. Some view this as a return to the dark ages. Professor Salvatore Babones, of the University of Sydney, argues it isn't so bad. The backlash may even be healthy for democracy.

Large swathes of public life have been taken out of the hands of elected governments and given over to unelected technocrats. These technocrats accuse their populist opponents of being closet authoritarians, yet, as Babones argues, their own support for democracy is conditional on the public endorsing their preferred outcomes. When the public doesn't respond appropriately, by voting for the "wrong" policy or candidate, they either refuse to accept the outcome or use every means possible to undermine it. European governments pressed on with European integration, for example, despite the results of referendums in France, the Netherlands and Ireland.

This is not to endorse individual populist politicians, nor to dismiss liberalism. It's just that liberalism's dominance has been bad for it, because it has moved it from its traditional role of exerting a moderating influence on the excesses of both right and left. Babones's criticisms of the status quo may strike some as overwrought, but his monograph is an original and provocative contribution to the debate.

Recommended

Disasters, bunkers and financial collapse: a little not-so-light holiday reading
Books

Disasters, bunkers and financial collapse: a little not-so-light holiday reading

Merryn Somerset Webb picks a selection of books for you to dive into wherever you are holidaying this summer.
3 Aug 2021
My must-read of 2020: a page-turning biography of Keynes
Investment strategy

My must-read of 2020: a page-turning biography of Keynes

John Stepek recommends some of his favourite financial books for you to read as lockdowns continue, including a surprisingly gripping biography of the…
31 Dec 2020
Five books to put on your Christmas list
Investment strategy

Five books to put on your Christmas list

Even if they’ve done nothing else, lockdowns – in whatever guise – have given us plenty of time to read. Merryn Somerset Webb picks five books to enjo…
7 Dec 2020

Most Popular

A nightmare 1970s scenario for investors is edging closer
Investment strategy

A nightmare 1970s scenario for investors is edging closer

Inflation need not be a worry unless it is driven by labour market shortages. Unfortunately, writes macroeconomist Philip Pilkington, that’s exactly w…
17 Sep 2021
What really causes inflation? Here’s what prices since 1970 tell us
Inflation

What really causes inflation? Here’s what prices since 1970 tell us

As UK inflation hits 3.2%, Dominic Frisby compares the cost of living 50 years ago with that of today, and explains how debt drives prices higher.
15 Sep 2021
The times may be changing, but don’t change how you invest
Small cap stocks

The times may be changing, but don’t change how you invest

We are living in strange times. But the basics of investing remain the same: buy fairly-priced stocks that can provide an income. And there are few be…
13 Sep 2021